I’m taking a class called Animalitos with artist Tracy Verdugo. It’s all sorts of awesome so I had to share it with you. Tracy Verdugo has no idea I am writing this review of her class, but since I’m exuding positivity and doing cartwheels over it I am sure she won’t mind.
What are animalitos? They are little animals painted with ink, and other mediums too of course, but the ink is just so luscious to work with. I can’t stop raving about the ink. You know I love working with ink! What is so fun is you just sort of sculpt your animal with water on some watercolor paper, drop in the ink and watch it do it’s magic. SO MUCH FUN.
Tracy Verdugo’s class is terrific for a number of reasons. First of all it’s on video and a PDF that you can download to your computer and keep forever. This is important to me because my internet is not conducive to streaming video. Plus, I like to watch, pause, experiment, and watch again. I like having the video right on my computer because I can access it even when I don’t have an internet connection. The PDF with explanations and material lists is nice because you can print it out and take it to the store with you or refer to it as you are painting without having to get on the computer, go on the internet, log into the class…well, you know the drill. Anything that saves time is a big plus for me.
There are several projects Tracy Verdugo walks you through in the class. Some include collage and using materials I have never used before. To be honest, I have only completed the first project because I am obsessed with these adorable, fantastical, little inky animals. I feel like I am telling a story with each one I create. I’ve started on another project, but the drying time makes it a longer process. I am sure I will share that one with you once I have completed it.
What else? Well, first of all, if you are feeling a little blocked or stuck in your art making right now this class will be an amazing boost for you. I don’t think I’ve ever taken an art class online that made me feel like a kid painting for the very first time like this one has. I find myself giggling with amusement and just having FUN. It’s pure fun. That is a really good recipe for creative development, and forward marching, and idea sparking. I seriously have an entire notebook page of new ideas just from the first project in this class. I’m like an idea factory right now. I owe it all to the fun.
The other thing is this class comes with membership to a Facebook group where you get to see the creations of other people taking the class. It’s so inspiring! I love how the same animal can look so different painted by so many people. It’s kind of fascinating.
I am going to go ahead and shout this out too: Get this class for your kids! I think it’s perfect for kids. They have to be old enough to use the art supplies safely of course, but it’s such an open, free form, experimental approach to painting that I am positive any kid would excel. Any grownup too. No need to be able to draw a straight line to do this kind of work.
*I didn’t receive any compensation for writing this post. I paid for the class myself. Tracy Verdugo probably doesn’t even know I exist and I am not affiliated with her in any way. This is just pure, unadulterated fandom.
I went to BlogHer 14 with my awkward self and I totally bumped into all of the other awkward people like a ping-pong ball trapped in an arcade game. I was just joking about clapping your hands if you’re awkward because that would be, well, awkward, and maybe a little hilarious, at least to all of the non-awkward people playing it cool, which are probably far and few between at a technology driven conference like BlogHer. Thank God. Awkward people of the world, unite!
So, I’m a recovering shy child trapped in an adult sized body. By recovering I mean I have learned the tips, tricks, and tools necessary to fake it as an extrovert when I need to. I’ve given talks, taught classes, and even performed on stage where I had to memorize and say actual words while wearing a bathing suit in front of a large crowd of people. These are the things I do to stretch and grow and face my fears, either that or I am a complete masochist. The jury is still out on that one. Anyway, I can be social and speak in full, articulate sentences and even be funny at times. Of course, when I get tired and stressed and have a couple of uncomfortable social encounters I sometimes lose my mojo and cycle down into the pit of social anxiety that is my birth right.
That happened on my first day at BlogHer 14. It was day one, with a plate full of convention food. I was sitting there talking to a blogger when she whipped out her cell phone, mid conversation, and started texting or sexting or checking her Facebook messages. So, I finished my sentence and then without looking up she responded in a way that was totally off-topic to our conversation with an annoyed tone of voice, as if what she thought she heard me say offended her, but since her response didn’t make any sense really, because it was off-topic, I figured her offense taken wasn’t based on actual events. So I just kind of mumbled something benign like, “Well, everyone is different…” and sat in silence wondering where everything had gone wrong.
I blamed it all on technology. Well, I blamed it all on the technology after my friends bolstered me with things like, “No, you are not boring” and “It probably wasn’t personal, she was just awkward and felt safer talking to the people on her phone than to the people in front of her.” My favorite was when my friend Molly declared, “It’s not you. It’s them.” I didn’t know for sure though because my anxiety was in full throttle and I was busy ruminating about every mistake I had possibly made in the conversation. I wondered if I was boring, or offensive, or if I even belonged at the conference at all. If you don’t have anxiety issues, let me explain, anxiety is a beast. It turns the smallest thing into a mountain of a problem. I mean, who wants to go home after one negative encounter that lasted two minutes? Anxiety does, that’s who. I had to really do some reframing of my thought process. Why was I letting this moment ruin my good time? Tiny-Small patted me on the arm and declared, “You are a famous blogger like me, Mom!” Who could feel bad after that? Eventually I was able to let it go and get back to having fun.
I know blaming technology makes me sound like a cranky, old lady, but seriously, phones make some of us rude and distracted. Not all of us. I mean, some people seem to have mastered the skill of having two conversations at the same time. They can talk, make eye contact, and still type out some witty statuses to their fans. These people are clearly the Alpha bloggers among us! They are going places, you guys.
After my awkward lunch encounter it took me a while to get my confidence back. I was kind of tiptoeing around people. My anxiety was in full force. I was afraid to speak, because I was getting tongue-tied and I couldn’t get my thoughts out clearly. I wanted to hide. I didn’t though. I just kept putting myself out there and I started having lots of positive interactions. I started having fun again. I also started getting really picky about who I sat next to.
At lunch, on Friday, I sat at a table where nobody was talking to each other. So, as soon as I finished eating I moved to another table. I realized I had a ton of control over who I chose to interact with and I didn’t have to sit at a table with the unfriendlies. I could just get up and find someone who looked open to a conversation.
I met lots of awkward people like me who were putting themselves out there even though it was uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking, and we got to know each other and we had a really good time. Being awkward is not the same as being rude. This is a lesson I learned quickly. There is a difference between not knowing the perfect thing to say and not saying anything at all. it’s rude to pretend not to see someone or to not answer them when they speak to you. Yes, that happened a few times, but mostly, people were just nice and warm and friendly.
Technology might be contributing to our awkwardness at times, but it doesn’t stop us from having good experiences with the people right in front of us. Not if we don’t want it to. Not if we don’t let it.
There is hope for future generations, but at the same time, put your phone down once in a while and talk to the people sitting right next to you the next time you attend the BlogHer conference. If you don’t, you are really missing out on some gems. I promise, if you take the time to look at someone and have a conversation, you will not be sorry. Plus, you are putting out some good vibes into the universe and making our blogging community a place people want to be a part of. Think about how your response to someone might impact them and always choose kindness. ALWAYS.
So, just to do a quick recap on BlogHer 14 here are a few of my observations:
1. Sometimes you are sitting right next to your blogging hero or a blogging rock star and you have no idea, so be nice and be prepared to stare with your mouth wide open as the quiet woman at your breakfast table gets up on the stage in front of you later in the day and delivers one of the most impassioned monologues you have ever seen or heard. Also, be ready to kick yourself in the butt for not spending more time talking to her at breakfast. You will also discover new bloggers that you have never heard of, but that rock your world, and you will be counting down the minutes to get back to your computer so you can read every post they have ever written. I am not kidding. I have a list of blogs three pages long in my notebook. If someone asked a great question in a session, I wrote their blogs down. Sometimes you just know you have a lot in common and are going to connect on a visceral level. If they read a story they have written that moves you deeply there is a good chance their blog is full of all kinds of good stuff.
2. You will cry and laugh…sometimes at the same time. More than once a day. Bring tissues. Do not wear mascara.
3. You will learn things you never expected to learn about yourself and your blog. I attended as many sessions as I could and I learned something in each of them. Sometimes learning what I didn’t want to do was extremely valuable. Do not leave sessions before people start asking questions. Sometimes you learn more from the audience than from the panel!
4. Do not miss Voices Of The Year. Just don’t. I get chills still when I think about the way those women told their amazing stories. It was a highlight. Like I would go just for that. It was that good.
5. Find your tribe and do it quickly. If you meet someone nice, hang out with them. Having a buddy with you makes it all seem less scary. Joules from Pocketful of Joules took me under her wing at the Exhibition Hall and I had such a great time. It wouldn’t have been as fun on my own. Plus, if Joules is at the conference you should find her. She seems to know everyone, is very funny, is easy to talk to, and is super nice. She’s like a BlogHer super hero. I am totally picturing her in tights and a cape right now. If that’s not awkward I don’t know what is. I’m totally clapping right now. I don’t care what the cool kids think.
6. Make more time to hang out with your blogging friends. This is a mistake I made, mostly because I was tired and battling anxiety. Nothing saps your energy quite like anxiety does. I wish I had spent more time with my friend Quirky Chrissy. If you think she is funny and nice online…multiply that by 100 in person. She’s just amazing. I was so nervous meeting her that I couldn’t really just be myself and relax until Saturday night when the whole thing was almost over. Next year will be different! I don’t think the negative encounters I will likely have (Hello, we’re all awkward people bumping into each other) will put me into a tailspin so much because I know how to create more positive encounters now. Plus, next time I won’t be so anxious before I even get there because I will be a veteran, right? I’m banking on it.
7. If you can go to a minicon that fits your blog…do it! I went to the “Personal Blogging” minicon and it was life changing. I wish it had been the very first session I had gone to. It would have made the whole experience better because I would have found my tribe immediately. These women, both on the panel and in the audience, were amazing. I felt so at home and I learned so much about where I want to go with my blog. You may see some changes coming soon. It was a very affirming session and I truly felt like I belonged. Which just felt good in general. I think that session alone was worth the ticket price to BlogHer.
8. If you have a moment where you feel excluded and like you don’t belong at the conference, just wait it out. I guarantee in a few minutes you’ll find yourself in a group, laughing and feeling completely included and like you totally belong there. This was the roller coaster ride I was on Thursday and Friday. By the time Saturday rolled around I was feeling really good about being there…even when I was sitting at a table alone. There was just a shift inside me and I felt like “I’ve got this. This is awesome.”
9. Try not to get start struck. I mean, it happens at the weirdest moments. There were famous people ay BlogHer 14 giving keynotes and signing books, but they didn’t make me nervous when I thought about approaching them. It was the bloggers I admired most that I was terrified to talk to! I wish I could go back and tell myself to get over it. I missed out on talking to a few bloggers that I really wanted to meet because I never mustered up the courage to go introduce myself. I could beat myself up over it, but I figure there is always next year!
10. There will be things that happen at BlogHer that don’t make sense. You will learn about strategies and ways of doing things that won’t work for you or your blog. Don’t get grumpy. Don’t complain. Just put it in the category of “what not to do” and move on. As many people on the panel stated, there are many ways of doing things and many different paths to success. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but also stay true to what you believe in. Sometimes following the crowd is the worst thing to do. For example, the title of this post is not exactly SEO friendly. It’s even too long for Google. I am OK with that because today, the title of this post is more important to me than ranking in some magical place on the Internet.
This is a really long post. If you made it to the end, let’s get married because we are obviously soul mates.
P.S. I don’t have a lot of selfies or a lot of selfies with other bloggers because I cannot take a selfie to save my life (see above), but I do have a lot of great memories that will keep me riding the blogging train until next year…yes, I already want to go back!
Audience Watch Me offers a free website review (for a limited time so don’t wait!) and then emails you a feedback report with helpful tips about what works and what doesn’t work on your website. Meg Cook, owner and operator of Audience Watch Me, does the review herself. I signed up specifically to get help with my header. I asked Meg Cook to go to my site and give me her first impression of it because a little voice inside of me wasn’t too sure about the way my header looked, but I didn’t really know what was missing. Meg Cook figured out what was missing quickly – pictures! She suggested I add some photos of my art and myself so people would be able to connect with me and my work more quickly. She even suggested particular art pieces because they demonstrated a skill or visually represented me well as a person. I even included a silly photo of me because I wanted people to know that this is often a humor blog too.
I think what I liked about Meg Cook’s suggestions is she really emphasized connection, which is the primary reason I blog. I want to connect with people and make connections between people. Community is extremely important to me. If it wasn’t, I’d just have an art website and no blog. If you want to read the review of my blog header just click here: Lillian’s Audience Watch Me review.
Yesterday I wrote a review about UserTesting and I answered some questions about that service so I am going to answer the same questions about the Audience Watch Me review today:
1. Was it helpful? Yes! Meg Cook gave me some excellent concrete suggestions that I was able to implement immediately. She also checked in after the changes were made and gave me her thoughts on my new header. She did all of this for free. She obviously cares about her work and the people she works with very much. She also gave me some feedback on how my blog represented me. She could see the fun, humor, hope, and creativity that I am bringing to the Internet. This helped me see that I was sending the message I wanted to be sending to readers and so I felt very encouraged. This feedback helped me to understand that I am making choices based on my values and my dreams. Sometimes, because I can’t see myself or my work from the outside, I don’t know if people can see the cohesive thread that runs through all of the different things I make and write about.
2. Does the reviewers opinion matter? I didn’t know Meg Cook at all when I submitted my website for review on my first visit to Audience Watch Me so I think her first impression of my blog header was fresh and unbiased. When I read her review I discovered that she likes art and is a parent. She is a woman too. I don’t think I could have chosen someone to better represent the demographic of my average blog reader any better. If I were actively seeking new readers, she would be a member of the group I would be pursuing. So, her opinion is very relevant to me and my blog. Not to mention, she is a mom with an Internet business so she knows some of the challenges I face without me ever having to verbally communicate them.
3. How did it make me feel? I have to tell you I trusted Meg Cook from the first email she sent me. She sent my review and told me that it was published on Audience Watch Me, but that if it made me uncomfortable for any reason she would remove it. I also felt that she understood what my vision was and was willing to work with me to represent that vision in a more obvious way. She checked in with me to see how my new header looked. She also shared information with me about how (what photo programs might be helpful) to make a new header so I felt like she was invested in my success. I felt like I was part of a collaborative team. So, my Audience Watch Me review made me feel optimistic and energized. It gave me the courage to attempt some other changes I have been considering and to act a little more fearlessly because I knew, if I needed help, that Meg Cook would be there to share her knowledge.
4. Would I use this service again? Yes, I would. In fact, I plan to. There will come a time in the future when I will need feedback and I will be contacting Audience Watch Me to get it. I would have no reservations paying for Meg Cook’s services either because I know she is committed, honest, and cares about what she is doing. She understands how relationships can be important, finds positive and negative things to discuss, builds on your strengths, and has excellent customer service.
I think in some ways, what makes Audience Watch Me my preferred blog review service is that I know the person doing the review (her website has some biographical information and a picture of her on it) and it’s more personal than the services with a big pool of employees. It’s an ideal situation for me too because Meg Cook is such a perfect representative of my blog demographic. I got a comment on my blog post yesterday, about Peek (UserTesting) and the writer pointed out that I took the Peek review too personally and she was probably right, but I can’t think of anything on the Internet more personal than a blog. I mean, you are writing about your life almost daily and putting it out there for the world to see. Criticism of your blog is difficult to separate from criticism of yourself. In some ways, I think the problem with my Peek review is that it wasn’t personal enough. There are some people who would never come to this blog. They would have no reason to. There isn’t much here for a single guy with no kids who has little interest in home decorating for instance. Having a review from someone in that demographic wouldn’t really be that helpful. Connections are important to me, but there are some people I am just never going to connect with. Just like in real life…I am probably not going to be spending much time socializing with a young, single guy without kids, unless he is related of course!
I am also an introvert, so a one on one experience with a real person just makes more sense to me than a video created by an anonymous person that I can’t ask any questions of. How can I make improvements without having more details and a better understanding of a person’s experience? Sometimes things needs to be clarified for better understanding.
So, to summarize, UserTesting may work well for certain people and certain businesses, but for someone like me, Audience Watch Me is a much better choice. I need to feel like the person I am working with cares about my success and is someone I can trust. Maybe I am expecting a different type of feedback than the average UserTesting customer so if you have had a good experience with them I am glad for you. They do have an excellent customer service team. I was grateful when a company representative emailed me about my experience yesterday. In the end, we all have to do what works best for us. For me, that means hiring Audience Watch Me for all of my blog reviewing needs.